The Un-Scripted Creep State
“There is something about a secret which makes people believe…perhaps a relic of magic.” Dr. Hasselbacher from Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana”
Does anybody still remember The Good Shepherd? The flick was supposed to gut the CIA like a mackerel on a pier. Instead, lame lines drag down a plot that reels like a drunkard. It should be forced on the blunderkind at Langley anyway. Twenty minutes into the snoozer and the company’s second blindest spot comes to mind—exit strategy. People who clung miserly to their ticket price were stuck for another 147. In his review, “Secrets without mysteries,” Jim Emerson pegs it: “The story, and the history, are fascinating — or ought to have been.”
There is a lot more about the CIA that we don’t know than we do. Langley thinks even that’s too much for their supposed client, Joe Six-Pack. Hollywood must too; they’ve been keeping the lid on the farce of American “tradecraft” since at least 1958. That’s when screenwriters, at the behest of CIA operative Edward Lansdale, flipped the plot 180 degrees in the film The Quiet American. Its namesake novel was about CIA skullduggery and cutthroat tactics in French Indochina before US “involvement.” The Company improved version turns the book’s villains into the victims. To his credit Lansdale generally opposed the US strong-arming foreign countries — that didn’t include Tinsel Town — however foreign the place might look these days.
Screenplay writers keep recycling asinine plots like hamsters on tread wheels …while they constantly pass on true content more lurid than pulp fiction. The era covered in The Good Shepherd has enough arrogance, treachery, incompetence, conflict-of-interest, slapstick diplomacy, senseless carnage, institutional redundancy and flat-on-your-face comedy to occupy major studios for years. It’s exactly the kind of material that might put people in line at the box office too. Why do we call it the “entertainment industry”? In most years, films that only masochists want to watch sweep the Oscars.
Nobody left The Good Shepherd spoiling to go delving into CIA annals. Company men looked about as intriguing as DMV bureaucrats.
The CIA can find its way to coffee table conversations. Turning a few pages of background material makes the discussion worthwhile. The amount of attention given it by people who don’t is a scandal of American literacy. You can hit every java joint inside the beltway — of all places — and go for days before finding anyone who’s ever heard of James Jesus Angleton. The numbers of those who have — and still see the man as an espionage “success” — tells us that uncanny regard for creepy authority figures remains at pathological levels. Here was a guy appointed chief of counterintelligence, with a staff of 200, after exposing hundreds, more likely thousands, of Western operatives to the Soviet’s best mole of the 20th century. Few of the victims, if any, came to an end very far removed from anyone’s worst nightmare.
Hollywood delivered a stereotypically oblivious melodrama. They gave us Matt Damon moping around in stylishly cut 1950s couture wearing a vacantly pensive look on his face. Through what glass darkly does that resemble CIA highflyers of the Cold War era? Lalaland was above stealing their international men of mystery profiles from Graham Greene. He gave us self-righteous schmucks who saw mass bloodletting as a cost of doing business. They fought fires with arson and moved on as what they kindled raged beyond control.
Here are some scenes, straight out of reality, that would have punched up the movie:
Angleton, or the film’s transmogrified composite Edward Wilson, meets for lunch at Harvey’s with double-agent Arch Dunning — a springtime-for-Hitler excuse for Kim Philby.
Martinis or scotch get the bro-hug rolling. High-brow literary witticisms flow as their camaraderie warms up in early day alcohol. Chesapeake Bay oysters followed by lobsters or Dover Sole bonny up all those mots. Lavish fare was the least an ungrateful nation could do for jetsetters fighting commies in the trenches. Philby, once safe behind the Iron Curtain, famously said of Angleton: “”he was one of the thinnest men I have ever met and one of the biggest eaters.” Wine and Western operatives get spilled as the feast lasts into late afternoon. 3 P.M. is closing in as The Company double-nought spy finally glances at his watch. Wow, was it already time to return to the office and boozily bully subordinates about keeping mum? Once they part ways Arch Dunning heads to a shady dive. Waiting there is a KGB relay hungry for that day’s hot dope.
The chumps who stuck their necks out for the free world reaped what company suits sowed. Whole families were captured, tortured and slaughtered in Albania. Similar scenarios played out elsewhere. Western contacts were pulled off the streets in Berlin, Belgrade, Paris, Ankara, Rome and around the globe. Some ended up drugged to be shipped in cargo crates back to the USSR. Once in Moscow there was music to be faced in the bowels of Lubayanka. Then there were those inside the Iron Curtain facing the dire peril of exposure to the secret police. Extra special attention awaited them. A massive human tragedy was engineered by the very entity invented to stand in its way.
Here’s a famous quote from Miles Copeland junior, a CIA agent who died in 1991:
“What it comes to is that when you look at the whole period from 1944 to 1951, the entire Western intelligence effort, which was pretty big, was what you might call minus advantage, we’d have been better off doing nothing.”
That estimate is about 70 years short and counting. Simply relying on what is public information–dumbfounding tales of The Company in its own way could go on at encyclopedia length. Copeland gave an astoundingly candid interview to Robert Eringer for Rolling Stone in 1986.
No shortage of reliable sources credit Copeland with an active role in the in the coup d’etat that installed Army Chief of Staff Husni al Zaim dictator of Syria in 1949. It lasted 137 days. His execution came less than 2 months later. Many coups followed in that country which, according to whose word you accept, played out with and without CIA assistance. The last one — presumably sans Company participation — came in 1970 when Hafez Assad took power. The same family has held sway there since.
Wikipedia’s article on the original coup of 1949 tells us:
Article from LewRockwell